Monday, March 9, 2009

Giving Your Child a voice in Learning - SWAAAC

Today's post is a guest post by Mia Hysteria from General Hysteria.

Mia Hysteria shares her inspirational, humorous and sometimes heart wrenching journey of raising 3 young children, one with special needs, while managing a life of chaos, in her blog: General Hysteria . Mia has been blogging on General Hysteria since September 5, 2008 about her son, Ben (1), her daughter, Violet (2) and her oldest son, Alex (6). Alex has cerebral palsy, autism, sensory processing disorder, developmental delays, epilepsy, and ADHD. Mia is a mother, wife, blogger, and practicing writer. Candid about her current and pre-insanity-brought-about-by-children life experiences, Mia’s writings will leave you shocked, laughing, and reminiscing. On a laptop, in a cul-de-sac, somewhere in Colorado, she is single-handedly attempting to share her stories, thoughts, frustrations and elations so that no person feels isolated, forgotten or unworthy of their own journey.

“Alex is a kindergarten student at The Elementary School with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Alex’s parents reported that Alex is verbal, with about 60-70% intelligibility. Organizing his communication is still a struggle for him. Alex can get overwhelmed or over stimulated easily. In the classroom, Miss A described Alex as being easily distracted by visual and auditory stimuli. Alex’s writing was described as slow. Miss A reports that he has difficulty with sentence formulation.”

This is the beginning of the Assistive Technology Report we received from SWAAAC. SWAAAC stands for State Wide Augmentative and Alternative Assistive Communication which is part of the Colorado Department of Education System, providing alternative services of communication for students within the CDE who need it.

The SWAAAC Team that evaluations student’s needs for communication alternatives are interdisciplinary, including a Speech-Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Special Educators, Psychologists and Para-professionals, as needed. The goal of the team is to assist in designing communication devices to assist students with disabilities in achieving full access and participation in all educational opportunities.

According to their site, “In the broadest sense, Assistive Technology (AT) is any tool or device that helps a person with a disability function more effectively or independently at home, school, work or play. It is an important means to compensate for the effects of impairment and allows a person to move ahead to accomplish his or her goals….services can include: training the student and classroom staff in its use, consulting on the positioning or mounting of the device and coordination with other services.”

What this has meant for Alex…he was given a voice. An opportunity to participate in the classroom, in class assignments involving writing, learning sentence formulation. In addition to the academics of learning, it appears that he has a renewed sense of excitement for school. The struggle of learning and participation, and the ability to reach success has been made easier.
After meeting with a Speech Pathologist, his SSN teacher (special educator), an AT Specialist, and OT, they observed him in the classroom, determined what would be assist him, and implemented the IntelliKeys system by IntelliTools.

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The IntelliKeys System is an enlarged, alternative keyboard with an overlay. “IntelliKeys, enables users with physical, visual, or cognitive disabilities to easily type, enter numbers, navigate on-screen displays, and execute menu command.” The overlays are customized for each individual student, taking into account disability level, goals and likes. Set in a particular position for ease of use, Alex simply touches the overlay in the form of pictures to form a sentence.

Miss A has told me of some of the experiences that Alex has had on it. She says that when he makes a sentence, he is ‘rewarded’ with a sound from the sentence. For instance if he produces the sentence, “I like planes”, the computer program with either verbalize the sentence – for which Alex’s response is enthusiastically that he likes planes too – or it flies an airplane by (airplane noise) which Alex goes crazy for!

The proof that I’ve seen? We went to his pediatrician for a 6 year appointment. The nurse asked him his age. He responded with a huge smile, looking at the ground, “I’m 6 years old”. WHAT!?!?!? My husband and I looked at each other, both with our jaws equally unhinged and hitting the ground. We were proud, amazed, surprised; our hearts stopped. We have tried for years, I mean years to have Alex say his age when asked. It has never happened. Not once. Not ever. Until after he started using this system.

Apparently, one of the overlays is the individual letters of his name (to recognize his name, learn the letters and order of spelling his name) and the number 6 (his age). He puts it together and the system says, “I’m 6 years old”. Alex, again enthusiastically, responds, “I’m 6 years old too”.
After some kinks are worked out, we will be going in with Alex to see first hand how the system works for and with him. After that…fundraising to gain the technology for use at home.

Each state has their own version of the Statewide Augmentative and Alternative Assistive Communication. If your child needs assistance in this area, seek this service out. It doesn’t mean that the IntelliTools system is something that your child may need or utilize, but whatever your State’s Department of Education provides, it’s worth the time and effort to give your child a voice.

Please see the next post for resources from the SWAAAC site.

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